No One is in Jail on Nashville, a Great Nighttime Soap

By Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman

Connie Britton (left) and Hayden Panettiere in Nashville

What’s to write about?   Everyone on General Hospital is in jail, or should be. Sonny has finally been arrested for the murder of A.J. Quartermaine. Carly and Duke are there, too, for helping Sonny cover up the killing.  Heather is in jail and presumably will be transported back to Ferncliff.  Franco and Nina aren’t in jail, but should be for kidnapping Ava’s baby.   And so should Ava, for the long ago murder of Connie.

So this week, let’s go somewhere new. Do you watch Nashville on ABC? It’s my favorite nighttime soap, and I’ll bet a lot of daytime soap fans agree.

Nashville is everything a daytime soap producer might imagine in his/her wildest dreams. For openers,   it’s a superlative job of world-building, capturing as it does with such impeccable authenticity the world of today’s Nashville, Tennessee – a thoroughly modern metropolis of the New South that also occupies a fabled position in our popular culture as the home of our uniquely American country music industry.

It’s not entirely fair, of course, to compare this weekly primetime juggernaut, with its audience of nine million and per episode budget of $4 million, with daytime soap opera’s five-days-per week worlds-without-end marathon. But it’s not the glitz and glamor and the fabulous music that make Nashville so compelling. It’s the series’ old-fashioned heart and soul of family drama – intersecting stories of love gained and lost, striving broken spirits who cry out and sometimes lash out in pain, and ambition both triumphant and failed, all at the confluence of family and fame.

Behind it all is the flow of creativity that all the characters share, the desire to make music that is their own. This becomes a struggle that infuses all the story lines, a battle between artistic honesty and fakery that is not unlike life itself.

Nashville is built around the world of Rayna Jaymes, a storied country superstar whose career is on down the line, as they say, at the point where she needs and wants to take charge. She does so by launching her own record label, the demands of which clash painfully with her other lives, as mother, wife and conflicted lover. Connie Britton plays her so truthfully, we can easily believe there is a real Rayna, right up there with Tammy and Loretta and Reba.

Rayna is divorced from Nashville’s slick mayor Teddy (Eric Close), engaged to fellow country superstar Luke Wheeler (the equally believable Will Chase), yet continually crossing paths with the man who surely will always be the love of her life, the alcoholic fabled guitarist/songwriter Deacon Claybourne, played by Charles Esten, who surely is the most attractive man on television.  Rayna and Deacon were lovers long ago and even have a daughter out of wedlock.  They have tried to rekindle their love on several occasions, but it’s just not right. I admire greatly that these characters are all truly adults, trying to honor their choices and do the right thing for their families and children. And all without saccharine.

Nashville’s parallel story line follows the fortunes of Juliette Barnes, one super self-centered hellion of a country/pop upstart from hardscrabble roots who launches herself as Rayna’s competition, becomes her nemesis, then her partner, then the object of public scorn. She’s played brilliantly by daytime alum Hayden Panettiere, who grew up on soaps on Guiding Light and One Life to Live.

Panettiere may be the bravest woman ever on television or in film. Rene Zellwegger deserved the kudos she earned for gaining weight for the title role in Bridget Jones Diary, and Panettiere goes her one better. In real life, Panettiere really is pregnant and has gained the usual pounds. Her Juliette is pregnant, too, proudly looking the part without either slimming camera tricks or insulting fat suit. A real woman playing a real woman. How refreshing.

There’s a whole bushel of intersecting secondary stories, each populated by superb acting talent to die for. These include Jonathan Jackson as aspiring songwriter Avery Barkley, father of Juliet’s baby. (You may recognize him from GH, where he grew up playing Lucky Spencer.)  Wonderful, too, are Clare Bowen as Deacon’s talented songwriter niece Scarlett, Sam Palladio as her ex Gunnar Scott, one time songwriting partner who belatedly learns he has a six year old son, and Chris Carmack as Will Lexington, a closeted country hunk who has made it big and is terrified he’ll be found out. What unites them is the steady stream of their soul-revealing music.

All of this is the work of Callie Khouri, who brought smart, flawed and therefore true-life women to the big screen in Thelma and Louise, now a classic. There’s nary a misstep in her Nashville, not a single thing I would change, not a moment when I want to look away from the screen. That is remarkable for such a broad and complex canvas. But Nashville doesn’t feel complex. Its storylines flow together like the lyrics of a country story song.

If you haven’t been tuning in – which I doubt – catch up somehow. You’ll be glad you did.

Heavenly November Sweeps Performances on The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful and General Hospital

By Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman

It’s been quite an eventful November sweeps so far.  Stories built over the course of a year or more usually reach their apexes if not their conclusions  over sweeps months (February, May, November) and writers plot their most dramatic action to stretch over these months.   This November’s star plots on The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful and General Hospital varied in quality but mostly  offered actors who pulled out all the stops and gave their best, sometimes Emmy-worthy performances during the month. Let’s partake of the feast:

The Young and the Restless — This was finally the month that Sharon’s long held secret – that she had switched the DNA results and Summer was really Nick’s biological daughter, not Jack’s as all had believed for the last year — was disclosed.  It was Phyllis (Gina Tognoni) who forced Sharon (Sharon Case) to disclose her lie on the very staircase where Phyllis had taken a fall, resulting in a coma that lasted a year. Tognoni (once Kelly on One Life to Live) was particularly forceful here, full of rage and tears, all aimed at Sharon.  Also giving a fine and very affecting  performance was Peter Bergman, whose Jack tearfully and shockingly found out that Summer wasn’t his natural daughter after all.

The Bold and the Beautiful — This is the month Eric picked his successor as CEO of Forrester Fashions.  His first choice was his son Ridge — until model Maya disclosed at a board meeting that Ridge had been kissing his sister-in-law and design collaborator, Caroline, who is Rick’s wife on the sly.  Jacob Young gave a particularly sympathetic and believable performance full of great depth as the betrayed Rick, as did Linsey Godfrey as the shattered Caroline.  Thorsten Kaye showed what a bastard normally good guy sly Ridge could be by brushing off responsibility for his amorous action.  Rick was finally chosen CEO.

General Hospital GH took us through several weeks when secrets were disclosed all over the place.   Roger Howarth was just delicious as Franco exposed his bride Carly mid-wedding ceremony as a cheat and a liar.  Carly had covered up the fact that Sonny killed his adopted son’s natural father A.J.  Laura Wright was extremely harrowing as the betrayed Carly, as was the even more betrayed and shocked Michael.  Chad Duell has been giving the performance of his GH career in this plot denouement   Also very good has been the always dependable  Robin Mattson, whose escaped criminal mental patient  Heather got mixed up in the almost wedding and held several characters including  Jordan and Sean hostage.  But best of all was long time acting couple Finola Hughes and Ian Buchanan, as police chief Anna had to arrest her lover Duke for covering up Sonny’s presence at A.J.’s murder.  These two actors always shine together, but were particularly effective and heavenly here.

And November sweeps isn’t even half over yet.

General Hospital: Where is the Love?

By Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman

“Where is the love?”  This is a famous soap world quote from the late beloved headwriter Doug Marland (As the World Turns, etc.) spoken when he used to look at other soaps and find anything but.   This question can now be most fairly asked of General Hospital, once a good soap opera but now nothing more than a bunch of plot manipulations, double crosses and characters with anything else but love on their minds.

Take Franco and Carly, who supposedly “love”  one another.  When minister Lucy asked Franco during the wedding ceremony if he’d take Carly as his wife, he said, “Definitely not.  She’s a lying, cheating whore.”  Franco picked that “romantic”’ moment to disclose that he knows Carly has been cheating all along with her ex-husband Sonny.  Before the ceremony, Carly had accused Franco of hiding the truth that he tapped into her computer while Nicholas was secretly hiding out at their house.

Then there’s Sonny, who supposedly loves Carly.  Who he really loves is himself, and his whole motivation these days has been plotting to keep secret (and not get arrested for) the fact that he killed A.J. Quartermaine for killing his fiancé Connie (Ava really did it).  He has done everything he could to keep the truth from his son Michael (A.J’s biological son.)  He has also plotted to kill Franco who knows he murdered A.J.   Sonny was going to try to frame Heather for the murder of Franco.  But Heather overpowered hitman Sean when she kidnapped and tied up his lady love Jordon.

Will Sonny beat the law this time?  We bet not, as police chief Anna is finally on to the fact that Sonny killed A.J.  We bet he’ll be arrested soon.

Sonny also plotted to kill an expectant Ava as soon as she delivers the baby that is either his or his son Morgan’s.  In a related plot that is anything but a celebration of love, psychotic Nina Clay is now holding Ava hostage and has just injected her with both a paralytic drug and a drug which induces labor.  Nina, in cahoots with her mother Madeline, plans to take Ava’s baby once it is delivered and keep it as her own.   This is to get back at Ava for her long-ago affair with Nina’s husband Silas   There has rarely been a soap opera character who is less full of love as a motive than crazy Nina.

Speaking of, to get Dr. Silas’ current attention away from her, Nina had Madeline seize Danny’s  medical records and change them to look like his leukemia has returned.  What an ugly moment for GH, and especially for poor Danny’s mother Sam!   Silas is finally onto Nina and is now searching for her, as she is holding mother- to-be Ava hostage and injecting her with all kinds of drugs.

General Hospital, where is the love indeed?